Caroline Kuliga loves the chaos of the classroom. As a preschool teacher, that’s where the Antioch alum thrives on a hands-on approach to teaching. For Kuliga, learning is messy. It starts in the dirt, and she is more than happy to play in the mud with her students.
Still, it’s nice to have a change of pace, and one of the best parts of Kuliga’s job as a preschool educator is taking in the little, quiet moments. Those small moments of connection that many people wouldn’t notice. Like when two infants hand a shovel back and forth.
“It’s so simple,” Kuliga says. “But it’s such a beautiful connection between these two kids who don’t have any words yet.”
Kuliga has an undergraduate degree in child development and a minor in early childhood education. She wants to teach for a long time, but someday she sees herself moving into an administration role. That’s what led her to Antioch Online’s Master of Human Services Administration degree program.
“I knew from my years of teaching that, specifically in early childhood education, preschools, and daycare centers, a lot of administrators don’t have the proper leadership training. I wanted to be prepared, and make sure if I ever wanted to be in that role, I’d have the education to succeed in it.”
Antioch’s program also helped Kuliga figure out some of her values and expectations, especially when it comes to leadership style. In Kuliga’s personal teaching philosophy, children come first, and Kuliga lets them take the lead. She loves being a part of a child’s play when invited, but she’d take a backseat any day and watch a few kids play on their own instead of forcing herself into the game.
“As a preschool teacher, or infant care teacher, or just teachers in general, you have relationships that are strong,” Kuliga says. “Antioch taught me different ways to go about approaching workplace relationships that were more professional.”
At Antioch, Kuliga found an unexpected community and support network. She has had a rough couple of years, navigating the loss of two close relatives, moving from Boston to Maine, and transitioning from a job that she had invested in years of her life. Then, of course, the pandemic hit. During uncertain times, Kuliga appreciated Antioch’s approach to education, one that believes that all aspects of a student’s life matter.
“Everyone at Antioch said, please take your time, and everything will be fine. It was something I needed to hear because I was trying to plug through, in general, and trying to get to the end of each week.”
Things have a way of working out, and, despite the chaos of life, Kuliga graduated in August 2020. Now things have calmed down a little, and she is taking time to enjoy the shift.
“True reflection is just something I’ve learned from the kids. You know, they taught me to take a minute, sit down, and be mindful of what I do every day.”
When Kuliga thinks about her future and her life in Maine, she hopes to find a nature-based preschool or daycare center where she can put her work in as a teacher and work her way up in management. These days, Kuliga is working as a nanny, but it’s just temporary. She’s waiting to look for a teaching job until after the dust of the pandemic settles a bit.
“For me, as a person and as a teacher, connections are a big part of how I get to now people,” Kuliga explains. “Entering a school where I’m a stranger during a pandemic, and wearing a mask 24-7, I miss out on those personal connections. So for now, I decided to nanny. It just feels like the right choice.”
Thanks to her time at Antioch, Kuliga feels prepared for the road ahead. She can even see herself in an administration role in a nonprofit–as long as the job includes working with families and children.
“Yes, there are tantrums. I have to change diapers and clean up after lunch and snack, but there are those sweet moments where I’m putting a kid down for a nap, and he just holds my hand.”
It’s in those moments, Kuliga points out, where she remembers that even in all the chaos, all is right in the world.